Giving Back to Healthcare

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Volunteering is a golden opportunity for healthcare professionals

Volunteering is a core part of any professional’s career building journey. There are so many benefits that healthcare professionals can use to their advantage from the abundance of volunteer opportunities in their field.

ADVANCE spoke with clinicians who have volunteered about the importance of offering up your free time for the greater good and how it benefited their own career growth.

“If more healthcare professionals volunteered, they’d see their patients and caregivers from an entirely different vantage point-as a person rather than a patient,” said Sherri Oustalet, director of volunteer and student services at Montefiore Medical Center at The University Hospital for Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y.

“Volunteering allows the healthcare professional to relax a bit, and not feel the stressors of work and the need to be somewhat detached at times when dealing with health crises,” she continued, “and in that more relaxed state they can more easily feel and see the person they’re helping, and ease their suffering that much more – whether they volunteer in the healthcare industry or elsewhere.”

There’s Always a Reason

Oustalet actually volunteers in the healthcare field herself, and the reason why hits close to home. “I’ve received critical emergency healthcare, as have my family and friends, at various points in our lives. For me, it was a major car accident in 1999, and the loss of someone dear during the attacks on September 11-and knowing folks with health issues resulting from that awful day. Throughout each experience, we all received volunteer help.”

Michael Streifer, a doctoral student of physical therapy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, volunteered his time to strengthen his desire to become a physical therapist. “In undergraduate school, I began learning about the human body, movement, and pathology. Learning this was intriguing to me and I wanted to see and understand how this information was applied in a practical setting.”

Volunteer hours were also required for physical therapy school, but Streifer told ADVANCE that as time went on, his motivation for volunteering was to continue learning.

“Volunteering is more important than I ever imagined. You learn an immense amount about so many aspects of the profession through volunteering,” Streifer added. “I wanted to volunteer to learn the application of the science I was learning in class – I never expected to learn so much about the importance of patient interactions and how to start thinking like a healthcare professional.”

Oustalet uses volunteering to widen her scope of knowledge as a volunteer manager. “Professionally, when I volunteer, I notice areas where volunteer opportunities might expand or improve or how staff can develop better relationships with their volunteers, or how I might better disseminate information to volunteers and staff.” She added that it allows her to “stay in the loop of volunteer and staff needs. I might also see where something isn’t working.”

Streifer said that volunteering has given him a way to understand the profession in a way that he wouldn’t have been able to through schooling. “You cannot understand patient interaction until you do it. You can be an expert on the human body and its function, but if you cannot interact with patients, your knowledge cannot be utilized in the clinic. You also learn that nothing is by the books; every patient is an individual. You can read everything there is to know about rotator cuff tears, but it’s not until you treat a patient with a rotator cuff tear that you can really learn.”

He also explained that learning how to deal with logistics can only be understood from volunteering in the clinic. “This includes aspects of care involved with documentation, dealing with a busy clinic while still trying to provide individual care, and dealing with difficult patients or families.”

Getting Involved

Getting involved and keeping up-to-date with your profession can be hard, but there are many ways to find access to volunteer opportunities to help build your resume for your dream career.

Streifer was surprised at how easy it was to volunteer in the physical therapy field. “All physical therapists, and most medical professionals for that matter, have all gone through the grueling processes involved with getting into and through graduate school, so they understand where you are and are willing to help you reach your goals.”

He found his opportunities through the internet, as well as reaching out to clinics who might offer volunteer services. “I told them I was a student interested in applying to physical therapy school and wanted to know if I could do some volunteer hours, every place I called said yes. I remember being worried about getting volunteer hours when I first found out about its importance, but it was much easier than I thought and there were many therapists that went out of their way to help me,” he recalled.

If you’re wondering what you can do to boost your resume and give back to your community all at once, Oustalet offered up some suggestions. “There’s an abundance of volunteer opportunities both here at Montefiore Medical Center, in the Bronx, in the 5 boroughs, statewide, nationwide, and globally – think Doctors Without Borders, American Red Cross, or Feeding America. The list of volunteer opportunities and organizations who need volunteers is endless.” She also suggested idealist.com.

“There are more than enough volunteer opportunities; the opportunities are everywhere, they are just not advertised or easily seen. All it takes is a phone call to a clinic or facility in the area,” emphasized Streifer. “Every clinic I called was willing to let me volunteer or observe.”

It’s All Worth It

During his first volunteer experience, Streifer was beginning the difficult prerequisite classes that are required for PT school admission and was balancing a lot of things in his life. “During the week I would question whether the stress of the process was worth the reward. However, whenever I volunteered in the clinic I was reassured that physical therapy was my passion and becoming a physical therapist would be worth the stress of the process.”

For Oustalet, it’s all about helping others. “As a volunteer, you can’t help but develop empathy and compassion for the people you help or serve; and healthcare professionals are truly some of the most compassionate people I know.”

Streifer related to this as a student. “Through volunteering I learned the importance of empathy and patience when working with clients, which was a very valuable quality when doing practical exams in school.”

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Dillon Stickle
Dillon Stickle

Dillon is an editorial assistant on Rehab Insider and Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine. Contact him at dstickle@advanceweb.com.

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